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Challenges for Rural Primary Education through Satellite Technology in India

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

The Famous Brazilian educator Paulo Freire opined that education in developing countries is conceived and practiced as a form of ‘banking’. Herein, the teacher, as the communicator, makes deposits that the students patiently receive, memorize and repeat. The latter, he believed, serves to increase the recipients’ dependence on the educator. He, thus, advocated a more liberating approach in which engagement with education functioned as a dialogue. Herein, the educator participated and generated access for students to imbibe knowledge that was truly self- fulfilling.

Teaching in India’s government primary schools in rural areas has often been argued to be in the bind of such ‘banking education’. In addition, since the country’s independence in 1947, these schools have faced institutional constraints pertaining to infrastructure, maintenance, teacher recruitment, curriculum capacity and training. Educational expenditure as a percentage of GDP rose from 3% in 2004-05 to over 4% in 2011-12. In the 11th Five Year Plan period, 43% of the public expenditure was incurred for primary education (elementary stage from Grade I-V and upper primary from Grade VI-VIII).The modest gains of Operation Blackboard  and the National Education Policy , of the late 80’s, have been carried forward under the more ambitious flagship program Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). Besides, the Right to Education Act (RTE) has also been invoked. Against an estimated child population of 192 million in the 6-14 age group, 195 million children have been enrolled at the elementary stage in 2009-10. In addition to enhancing learning levels, SSA also intends to fill infrastructural gaps and bridge gender differences in rural schools.

Interactive Educational Television in the Amazon

Michael Trucano's picture
a road map -- er, river map -- for the expansion of educational opertunities in rural Brazil?
a road map -- er, river map --
for the expansion of educational opertunities
in rural Brazil?

According to figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, "Countries will need an extra 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and 3.3 million by 2030". The 2013/4 Global Monitoring Report provides a useful discussion of the consequences of this deficit, as well as some strategies for overcoming it.  There are, unfortunately, no 'quick fix' solutions here. We didn't get ourselves into this mess overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight either. While longer term efforts tackle this challenge in multiple ways over time, recruiting new teachers and upgrading the skills of others, it is probably also useful to ask:

How do you teach children in places where there are no teachers?

Many proposed answers to this include some consideration of the use of information and communication technologies. Some groups have offered that it may be most efficacious to simply introduce technologies that help enable students to teach themselves, bypassing teachers altogether. That is certainly one approach, but one with, to date, a rather checkered history of success in many instances (although not all), and one that is consistent with a worry that teacher union officials have expressed to me many times over the years: that many of their members fear that they are being, or will be, replaced by new technologies. Rhetoric from certain politicians (I'll refrain from adding a link or three here, but a few minutes with your favorite search engine should help you locate a number of them yourself) and projections from some ministry of finance officials (informed, one suspects, in some cases by data from the marketing departments of certain technology firms) do little to alleviate such concerns. In some cases, the introduction of new technologies undeniably *does* replace certain specific functions or roles that teachers currently perform, or have performed in the past (especially related to what are essentially clerical or administrative functions -- this replacement is presumably not always such a bad thing). In my experience, introducing new technologies in schools actually makes the role and function of teachers more central and critical, but that is perhaps a topic for another blog post.

Faced with severe, in some cases quite extreme, deficits of qualified teachers, especially in remote communities and in subjects like mathematics, science and foreign languages, many countries are in engaged in long term efforts to recruit and train more teachers and upgrade the skills and content masteries of 'low-skilled' teachers already in their system.  They are exploring how ICTs can be leveraged to help in these efforts. Where there are pressing needs *now* for teachers that can not be met through conventional approaches or according to the traditional timelines dictated by the capacity and effectiveness of their teacher training institutes, there are looking to see how technologies can help reach students today in schools without qualified teachers -- or in some cases, without any teachers at all.

Computers in Secondary Schools: Whither India?

Michael Trucano's picture

The German scholar Max Müller famously remarked that "If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India."

No doubt there are many other countries also deserving of similar sorts of accolades, but the challenges that India currently faces related to providing universal access to a relevant and quality education for everyone -- and the solutions it deploys to meet such challenges -- are of increasing interest and relevance to people around the world. This is especially true as it relates to the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to meet a variety of educational and developmental objectives.

All education systems are complex and varied, and India's is as complex and varied as any education system in the world. Only China rivals India in the vast scale of its education sector.While it is true that many schools in India are just now being introduced to computer use, India's first formal educational technology scheme started way back in 1972, during the government's fourth five-year plan.